Yotam Ottolenghi’s beef meatballs with broad beans and lemon…

I’ve been absolutely loving this season of Master Chef Australia and I really am excited to watch this week with one of my favourite chefs – Yotam Ottolenghi – visiting the set and providing the contestants with his guidance and inspiration.

A few years ago one of my dear friends and former colleagues, Kirrily, gave me the Jerusalem cook book for a birthday present…I just loved it and was so inspired by the way Yotam used fresh herbs, ingredients and textures to create the most amazing, interesting and flavour-packed meals and dishes. Whenever I can, I sit on the couch with a cuppa and pour over my favourite cook books and without question, I always come back to this one.

And when I cook from it I am reminded of my friend Kirrily (who is working and travelling in India at the moment) and I can’t help but appreciate the way in which food connects us all…her gift not only triggers fond memories of friendship and growth but provides me with inspiration to cook for those I love and also, share with you. There is something so pure and for me, heart warming about the passing on (an appreciation) of beautiful recipes.

When I’m not creating Palmy Platters on the weekend I love to cook dishes that are a little more special for my family…today I made these meatballs for my husband Mark and they really were the perfect Sunday meal on a chilly Winter’s afternoon. Our kitchen became filled with the most enticing aromas and I couldn’t help but feel happy and grateful for life’s simpler pleasures – particularly in this day and age when unfortunately our news and world seems to be filled with such inane hate and terror. Tonight I am thinking of London and all of the families who have lost loved ones…

Yotam’s meatball recipe is below and I recently posted a delicious vegan salad of his, made with dates and almonds (filed under Soul Food).

I hope you enjoy…

Ingredients

4 and a half tablespoons olive oil

350 grams broad beans, fresh or frozen

4 whole thyme sprigs

6 garlic cloves, sliced

8 spring onions, cut at an angle into 2 cm segments

2 and a half teaspoons lemon juice

500 ml chicken stock

salt and black pepper

Meatballs

300 grams minced beef

150 grams minced lamb

1 medium onion, finely chopped

120 grams breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons each chopped flat leaf parsely, mint, dill and coriander, plus 1/2 tablespoon extra each to finish the dish

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon baharat spice mix

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp capers, chopped

1 egg, beaten

Method

Place all of the meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add 3/4 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper and mix well with your hands. Form into balls about the same size of ping pong balls. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in an extra-large frying pan for which you have a lid. Sear half the meatballs over a medium heat, turning them until they are brown all over, about 5 minutes. Remove, add another 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and cook the other batch of meatballs. Remove from the pan and wipe it clean.

While the meatballs are cooking, throw the broad beans into a pot with plenty of salted boiling water and blanch for two minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove the skins from half the broad beans and discard the shells.

Heat the remaining olive oil in the same pan in which you seared the meatballs. Add the thyme, garlic and spring onion and saute over a medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the unshelled broad beans, 1 and a half tablespoons of the lemon juice, 80ml of the stock, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and plenty of black pepper. The beans should be almost covered with liquid. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.

Return the meatballs to the pan with the broad beans. Add the remaining stock, cover the pan and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. If it is very runny, remove the lid and reduce a little. Once the meatballs stop cooking they will soak up a lot of the juices so make sure there is still plenty of sauce at this point. You can leave the meatballs now, off the heat, until ready to serve.

Just before serving, reheat the meatballs and add a little water, if needed, to get enough sauce. Add the remaining herbs and a tablespoon of lemon juice, the shelled broad beans and stir very gently. Serve immediately.

For me, cooking is all about loving, sharing, nourishing and nurturing…

It’s been a while between blog posts and I must admit I have really missed this space…writing and sharing recipes and stories are two of my great passions but lately, with the pace of life, it has definitely felt more and more difficult to find the time to sit, collect my thoughts and share. And if truth be told I do find writing extremely therapeutic…if I’m ever upset, emotional or a little lost, it is the place I come to…to help me make sense of my feelings and channel my energies and thoughts in a positive and meaningful direction.

So when my little boy Jack broke his arm on the weekend, I suddenly felt, not just an urge to return to my blog, but a need. We have received so many beautiful get well messages from friends and family, which have been overwhelmingly appreciated and Jack has been such a brave boy and is doing so well. But when it happened I was reminded with such force how quickly life with little ones can change, how emotionally draining it is when our babies are in pain and how we really can’t ever take anything for granted as parents.

Because there are some certainties in life…curveballs will always be thrown, challenges form a big part of our days and pain often sits very closely beside joy. As a Mum I wholeheartedly wear my heart on my sleeve…if I am worried or sad I find it almost impossible to hide my emotions and I can (and do!) tear up at the drop of a hat. But the older I get the more accepting of myself I have become and now I feel that it’s okay to not always be okay. That sometimes, laughter doesn’t come very easily, that some weeks are just harder than others and that our children’s pain will always be our pain because their little hearts and souls will always be bound inextricably to ours.

With nine years experience as a Mum now, I also understand that trying times with our little ones will inevitably pass and children are so astoundingly resilient…it doesn’t take long for ‘new normals’ to be established and they have a marvellous and enviable ability to live beautifully in the present moment, with only fleeting and usually carefree thoughts of the past and the future. My three children give me such incredible strength every day and provide a reason to always try and improve and evolve…to be the best version of myself that I possibly can be.

I have also realised, that (much like my Mum Jude), when I am sad or struggling or at a loss to know what on earth to do…I cook! And sing….usually both at the same time. So, when I was coming to terms with Jack’s pain on the weekend I headed to the kitchen to create, played some of my favourite songs and almost instantly, I felt so much calmer and happier.

This no-bake Key Lime Pie was a real hit with the kids and Mark and I. We are not vegans but I absolutely love making (and eating) vegan food, particularly raw cakes as they are filled with so much natural goodness. Chloe remarked that she liked it ‘more than Daddy’s birthday cake’, which was a traditional cheesecake with a chocolate brownie base! Just goes to show how natural ingredients and flavours – when combined well – can be so amazingly satisfying.

The salad is from the very inspiring ‘Jerusalem’ cook book. Both the lime cake and this salad recipe feature dates and almonds and I couldn’t help but marvel at how versatile these exotic, plant-based ingredients can be – they really do lend themselves to sweet and savoury dishes so effortlessly and beautifully. I also love how both of these recipes incorporate lemons and limes which are pretty heavenly at the moment. Mum actually brought me down the most divine limes off her girlfriend’s tree last week…totally organic, homegrown with love and packed with intense and amazing flavour.

I also just wanted to use this post to say happy, happy Mother’s Day to all of the beautiful Mums I know…here in Avalon, I am quite literally surrounded by the most incredible women, who give so very much to their children and their families day in and day out. We all understand how truly challenging and exhausting it can be but how those difficulties are far surpassed by the most astounding rewards. Being a Mum is a gift…at times a somewhat fraught one but I would not change my life and my little world with my three crazy cats for one minute. Enjoy Sunday gorgeous ladies…

Baby spinach salad with dates and almonds…

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

100 grams pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthways

30 grams butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small pitas, about 100 grams, roughly torn into 4cm pieces

75 grams whole unsalted almonds, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons sumac

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

150 grams baby spinach, washed

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and half the olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add the pita and almonds and cook them on a medium heat for 4-6 minutes, stirring all the time until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the sumac, chilli and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside to cool.

When you are ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl.  Add the dates and the red onion, remaining olive oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

No Bake Key Lime Slice…

Ingredients:

Base:

1 and a half cups almonds

10 pitted Medjool Dates (soaked in warm water for 10 mins then drained)

1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

For the Filling:

3 large limes, juiced and zested

2 and a half cups cashew nuts, soaked in cold water overnight

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/3 honey or rice malt syrup

1 lime thinly sliced (optional)

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, place the almonds, dates and melted coconut oil in a food processor and pulse until combined. Grease an 8 inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Press the mixture firmly and evenly against the bottom of the cake pan.
  2. To make the filling, rinse the cashew nuts and drain them well. Place them in a high powered blender or food processor with the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour the lime filling over the cake base and place the cake in the freezer for at least two hours or until firm. Remove from the freezer for 10-15 minutes to thaw before serving.

Why, as a family, it has become increasingly important to stop and smell the roses…

…and belt out Adele whenever we possibly can!:-)

I was chatting to some close girlfriends last week (who I don’t get to see nearly enough of) and somewhat strangely we all seemed to be thinking the same things and feeling the same way. How did life suddenly become so very busy?! Over the last two years I have noticed the shift such a lot – perhaps it’s because I’m working more myself again, (and we’ve been in the process of building our house), but to be honest, the area I feel to be the most busy is with the kids and keeping up with their commitments. These days I seem to be dropping off far earlier and many afternoons are spent driving and racing here there and everywhere. At the moment I feel as though I wake up on Friday mornings and wonder how on earth the end of the week has already arrived…sometimes it feels like life is surging past at such a rapid rate that if I blink, I might just might miss it all.

Which does make me feel a little bit sad and nostalgic to be perfectly honest. I think back to the years I spent at home with my three as babies and yes, they were so busy and tiring…the lack of sleep was at times torturous and the monotony of changing nappies, picking up toys and organising food and meals often wore me down. I had many, many moments where I felt that I had sacrificed an enormous amount of myself to become a Mum but there was also the hugest part of me that absolutely loved it because I felt, (in fact I knew), that the precious little pocket of time I was inhabiting was transient…that it would, inevitably, one day come to an end.

Often when I was at parks with my little ones, at the beach or simply out on a walk (with all three piled in and on prams and scooters), people older than myself would stop me for a chat. They would ask me how I was managing and how old the kids were (general chit chat you expect from friendly strangers) and without question, they would tell me to enjoy my children, to soak in every precious moment because before I knew it the kids would be older, wishing to be with their own friends, in their own worlds and embarking on their own unique journeys.

And when I think back to it, one of the things I loved most about being with Sienna, Chloe and Jack when they were babies is that I was forced to slow down. I had always been such a busy person – comfortable, familiar and happy with daily deadlines. But when I became a Mum I had to approach the days more gently and without as many goals in mind…to smell the Spring flowers, gather mulberries from our local park and ‘blow and make a wish’ each time we happened upon a garden Dandelion. It was in that time I realised with such clarity, that although I had given up a large portion of my life as I knew it, I had (forever more) gained so much…I desperately needed to shift gears, to get to know myself on a deeper, more honest and empathetic level and to know what it’s like to love and be loved unconditionally. Becoming a Mum changed me so much for the better…and although it has challenged me like nothing else has in life (let’s be honest every day with little ones presents parents with a new set of challenges!) my family is by far the thing I love most and being a Mum is the thing I am most proud of.

What I find myself missing these days are the hours of freedom I used to enjoy when the children were tiny tots. In retrospect I probably didn’t feel particularly free at the time with the endless washing/shopping/cooking and playing, but there was definitely a sense that our days could unfold as we wished them to. Should we go to the park today? To the beach? To the zoo? Maybe do craft all day? Nowadays, I barely have time to scratch myself in the mornings as I’m preparing breakfast and lunches and racing the kids off to school and kindy…I often feel a little bit like I did as a Production Coordinator…an organiser of lives and a planner of days. What the busyness has made me appreciate and value so much more though are the times when we have no activities to race to…the times when we can just be together and play, read, cook, laugh and sing and not be so entrenched in hectic schedules and gruelling timetables.

So when Mark and I took the girls to Adele on Saturday night, it meant the world, for so many reasons. We have always absolutely loved her…when the girls were babies I’d play her ‘Live at The Royal Albert Hall’ concert over and over again and we would sing, dance, laugh, (I would cry and the girls would ask me why!) and chat about her amazing lyrics…always captivated by her beauty and talent and that unbelievable, other-wordly voice. For me, her music and songs helped to define a time in my life when our children were bubs and it will always bring back so many joyous, poignant and precious memories.

But to see her live was truly out-of-this-world and to see the look of pure glee on my little girl’s faces as they took in the crowd, the stage and the spectacle was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I felt so happy, proud and completely overcome with raw emotion. As Adele sang hit after incredible hit, I was transported to another, more magical world and I also realised just how much Sienni and Chloe have grown up…Mark and I are most definitely in a new phase of parenthood and when we do get to experience those moments when we can pause, reflect and enjoy one another’s company it is just so special.

And what an incredible role model Adele is for young girls these days…I love her realness, her humility, her wicked sense of humour, her kindness (Chloe has not stopped talking about how she sang happy birthday to a lady in the crowd) and her grace. It’s also so unbelievably refreshing and inspiring to see a beautiful young woman who has become a global superstar because of her innate and extraordinary talents. There were no costume changes, no butt or boob shaking, nothing remotely provocative or unsavoury about her performance (which unfortunately, seems so rare these days in the world of music)….just her in all of her real and magnificent glory.

There’s the hugest part of me now that feels so nostalgic and sad that the concert is over…that one of the most special nights I have ever had with my girls has quickly become a memory…but it will be permanently etched in our hearts and souls and for as long as we all live, we will never ever forget the magic that was Adele.